This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
House Republicans insist their vote Wednesday for a plan to expand a state economic development inventive program does not conflict with their mantra that government can’t create jobs. The chamber voted 96-0 for the measure proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and carried by Republican Rep. Tim Wirgau of Paris, who said the expanded cash grant program would help spur investment in economically distressed areas of the state. “Let me make it very clear that we’re not going to be standing on the Capitol steps and just doling out checks,” Wirgau said.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand the state’s business incentive program appears to be set for passage, following a vote Wednesday in the state House of Representatives. House members unanimously approved legislation that extends the FastTrack economic program to cover more expenses associated with corporate relocations and expansions. The 96-0 vote demonstrated broad support for a bill that has been a major element in Haslam’s legislative package for the year.
No matter the language on Duracell’s packaging, a C or D battery anywhere in the world can trace its roots back to Cleveland, Tenn. P&G announced Wednesday that Duracell’s Cleveland plant is now the sole producer of the big batteries that power the world’s flashlights, cameras and radios. To charge up its largest battery factory, the company will spend $36 million to expand the plant and add 60 jobs in Bradley County, said plant manager Bill Barkley.
State economic development officials want legislation passed this year to expand a cash grant program and close some company recruitment records. They’re at least halfway to that goal. The House passed a bill Wednesday that broadens the definition of the “Fast Track” program. Under the Bredesen Administration, cash grants were limited to job training and infrastructure. The expansion – which has bi-partisan support – allows companies to use the money for new equipment, retrofitting buildings and even moving expenses.
The state of Tennessee is fining a coal company for illegally dumping more than a million gallons of coal slurry into the New River in the Cumberland Mountains. The river is home to a fish and plant on the federal list of threatened species. The Knoxville News Sentinel is reporting that the state Department of Environment and Conservation is levying a base fine of $50,000 against Premium Coal. The company could pay an additional $196,000 unless it quickly upgrades its coal-washing operations. S
A $23 million Signal Mountain nursing home project cleared the required administrative hurdles Wednesday and will start this summer. Alexian Brothers plans to finish its new self-funded, 114-bed health and rehabilitation center by the summer of 2014. The plan was unanimously approved by Tennessee’s Health Services and Development Agency. “We’re very happy to be moving forward,” said spokeswoman Kim Goodwin. “We’ve been around 75 years. We want to continue to evolve.” The center now used on the Alexian Village campus was built 30 years ago.
TennCare officials believe that a controversial piece of legislation could stop Tennessee residents from choosing where they spend their retirement. In Tennessee TennCare manages the Medicaid dollars that flow into the state. The system collects all the funding and pays for residents who go into nursing homes or who stay at home to receive care. Representatives from the nursing home industry said the way Medicaid dollars are divvied up has to change, but TennCare officials said if that happened it would negatively impact the elderly, and adults with disabilities.
Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood planned to make public — with some “limitations” — the entire investigative file on a disgraced colleague, according to correspondence obtained by the News Sentinel. Blackwood stated that intent in a letter he penned to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn on March 7. Two days later, however, Blackwood announced he would not — and legally could not — make public the entire TBI investigative file on former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner.
Tennessee lawmakers are considering legislation that would keep state universities from extending nondiscrimination policies to campus religious groups. A Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would prevent the University of Tennessee or the Tennessee Board of Regents systems from applying their nondiscrimination rules to faith-based campus organizations. The bill comes in response to an ongoing controversy at private Vanderbilt University over whether that school’s “all-comers” policy toward student groups should apply to religious organizations.
State senators jumped into the fray over a nondiscrimination policy at Vanderbilt yesterday. They threatened to cut off lottery scholarship funds to private universities who adopt similar rules for student groups. The bill says that public schools cannot do what Vanderbilt has done and bar student religious groups from imposing faith tests on members or even leaders. But Senator Brian Kelsey of Memphis attempted to put private universities under the same state-imposed rule “Vanderbilt has adopted an absurd policy, to say that the Muslim student organization must accept Jews who profess no faith in the Muslim … faith, is nonsensical to me.”
A measure that was designed to allow teachers and coaches to join with students in prayer – before and after school – got its final OK in the Tennessee House of Representatives Wednesday. Earlier this week, the Senate added a new amendment, with no debate and little explanation. Rep. Phillip Johnson, a Cheatham County Republican, tried to explain the addition in the House. “The Senate added an amendment that just makes sure that we just cover situations where a school might lease their facilities to a church, that …that was OK too.”
Senate committees sided with gun owners over business owners Tuesday afternoon, moving two pieces of guns-in-lots legislation after weeks of debate and delay on the issue. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB3002, which prohibits employers from banning the storage of firearms in cars on company lots. The Senate’s commerce committee passed a companion bill, SB2992, which prohibits “employment discrimination based on an applicant or current employee’s ownership, storage, transportation or possession of a firearm.”
A bill allowing employees to keep guns locked in their cars while at work was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, and could head to a floor vote as early as Thursday. Senator Mike Faulk, the bill’s sponsor, cut down in an amendment who all can store their guns in their trunk. People with handgun-carry permits and those 21 or older with a hunting license could leave their guns in their cars. The law wouldn’t cover people who work in a private residence or at a nuclear facility. Under the amended bill, guns would be allowed on school property only if the carrier is 21 or over.
A bill protecting school districts when students pray or speak freely about their faith passed unanimously in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday morning. The legislation would require school boards to adopt policies that would establish a “limited public forum” where students could speak freely about topics, including religion, without discrimination. It also would require a student’s faith-based work to be treated identically as another’s secular answers.
A proposal that would prohibit students from dressing indecently in school is headed for floor votes in both chambers of the legislature. The measure unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee 7-0 on Wednesday and is now being scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor. A full vote in the House is scheduled for Monday night. The bill seeks to prohibit students from exposing “underwear or body parts in an indecent manner that disrupts the learning environment.” A stricter version of the proposal failed to pass the legislature three years ago.
A measure that would require “family life education” curricula taught in schools to be abstinence-centered is advancing in the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee 9-0 on Wednesday night. The companion bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee next Tuesday. The legislation has become an alternative to a proposal that seeks to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students.
An effort to tax strippers and adult businesses to help pay for a reduction in the state tax on coins, bullion and investment income has failed for the year. The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday killed the bill sponsored by Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, by sending it to a study committee after the Legislature adjourns for the year. The bill sought to impose a 20 percent sales tax on items sold at “sexually oriented businesses,” and to require strippers to pay a privilege tax to work in Tennessee. Carr said he based the tax proposal on studies showing that adult businesses depress property values by a similar amount.
A bill allowing Tennessee college students to keep their lottery scholarships despite exceeding a state-mandated semester hours cap passed the Senate Education committee Wednesday. After a state law passed in 2011 capping the number of hours students could take with lottery funds at 120, some students were left at risk of losing their scholarships. Those include students who changed majors, had multiple majors or were unable to take the classes they needed to complete their majors.
With legislation allowing new Tennessee municipal school districts jumping its first House committee hurdle Wednesday, suburban mayors said they’d like to see a bill passed that allows referendums and other movement toward new school districts this year. The bill repealing a 14-year-old ban on new municipal school districts in Tennessee won approval in the House Education Subcommittee on Wednesday, and now goes to the full committee next week.
Ticket industry interests came to a draw Tuesday, when legislation aimed at curbing large-scale scalping was sent to a Tennessee Senate study group for further exploration. Supporters of the Fairness in Ticketing Act argued that the bill would help regulate the secondary ticket market by requiring ticket brokers to give consumers refund information and provide the face value. Critics of the bill, which included the StubHub-backed Fan Freedom Project, argued that certain provisions would give companies like Ticketmaster too much power over the secondary ticket market, claiming the provisions would promote “restrictive paperless ticketing.”
The municipal-school-district bill that stumbled in a state House subcommittee last week will move on to the full Education Committee, but — and it’s a real “but” — the legislators who passed it forward in the Education general subcommittee, both Democrats and Republicans, made it clear they had doubts about it and would expect a full vetting. In fact, Rep. Richard Montgomery (R-Sevierville), the Education chairman, granted a request by Rep. Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis) for a full hearing on the bill, complete with “experts” on all sides of the issue and promised “whatever sufficient time we can agree on” for the process.
A bill in the Tennessee legislature to lift the statewide ban on creating municipal school districts is moving as the legislative session nears an end. The House education subcommittee approved the bill Wednesday, March 28, on a voice vote with the House education committee to consider the bill next week. It was the last subcommittee session of the year. The bill was approved last week by the Senate education committee and is awaiting action on the Senate floor possibly next week. There were no amendments to the bill Wednesday in the subcommittee.
It’s probably just a coincidence, but interesting nonetheless. Heidi Keesling has been the longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist. Though based in Washington, she has been in charge of Tennessee lobbying efforts and has had great success under the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate. The Legislature has passed a batch of bills expanding gun rights the last three years. But this year the gun lobbyists were told by Republican legislative leaders that the emphasis would be on reducing taxes, especially estate taxes and the sales tax on food.
Tennessee is one of at least 20 states with a “stand your ground” self-defense law similar to the one central to the Florida shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. The laws state that people are not obliged to retreat from confrontations outside the home and can use deadly force to protect themselves, The Associated Press reports. The Tennessee Legislature amended the law in 2007 to extend the same treatment to those inside businesses, buildings, cars and tents. The “stand your ground” laws are also sometimes referred to as “make my day” or “shoot first” laws.
Volunteer ‘victims’ add reality to scene at LP Field Paramedics, police and firefighters swarmed the grounds of LP Field on Wednesday, testing their most powerful state-of-the-art equipment in an event costing nearly $20,000 and billed as Nashville’s largest mock emergency drill in years. The city’s armored “Bearcat” truck carried gun-toting, camouflaged officers and streets filled with a menagerie of ambulances as dozens of volunteer “victims” with gruesome lacerations and protruding organs moaned and called for help. It all began with a sputter of smoke and some real-life confusion.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.., suggested Wednesday that taxpayers absorb a bigger share of the $693 million expense of building a new lock at the Chickamauga Dam During a Senate hearing on the fiscal 2013 Army Corps of Engineers budget, Alexander called for a change in the funding of lock projects, including the Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River that has been absorbing most of the money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe sensed he was witnessing history as he sat in the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday and listened to arguments over the constitutionality of a federal health-reform law. “I was really awestruck to be in there,” the Johnson City Republican said. Roe, a physician who opposes the health reforms, was invited by House GOP leaders to sit in on the arguments. He had never been inside the high court’s chambers, so he arrived early and took lots of notes. As he looked around him, one thing in particular crossed his mind.
The Metro Convention Center Authority and the Nashville Downtown Partnership have received a nearly $400,000 federal grant to study the area south of Broadway and develop a strategic master plan. The study will focus on maximizing public and private investments on and around the Music City Center campus, including an Omni hotel that will connect to an expanded Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the extension of Korean Veterans Boulevard between Fourth and Eighth avenues.
Ruling Against Mandate Would Pressure Insurers, Loom Large in November Election After three days of historic Supreme Court debate, the political world and health-care companies confronted the prospect of President Barack Obama’s health law being wiped away, a decision that would upend years of planning by businesses and roil the November elections. Among those set to implement the law, insurers would have to ditch changes to their businesses designed to bring in millions of new customers.
The day after the Supreme Court suggested that President Obama’s health care law might be in danger of being held unconstitutional, the justices on Wednesday turned their attention to the practical consequences and political realities of such a ruling. The justices seemed divided on both questions before them: What should happen to the rest of the law if the court strikes down its core provision? And was the law’s expansion of the Medicaid program constitutional?
Justin Owen and Beth Uselton parsed the lawyers’ arguments, decoded the justices’ questions and reached starkly different conclusions about how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the national health-care reform law. “It does seem, from the very hard-line questions, that the court is potentially ready to strike down the individual mandate,” said Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research and an opponent of the health reforms.
The crucial education debates in Georgia and New Jersey this year haven’t all centered around money. To a great extent, they have centered around power: Who has the power to create new charter schools? Both states are led by Republican governors who favor the expansion of the publicly funded, privately run schools. But they seem to be going in opposite directions. Legislators in Georgia voted recently to make it easier for the state to approve new charter schools, regardless of whether local authorities want them or not.
The Opry Mills shopping mall in Nashville will formally reopen Thursday after being shuttered for almost two years because of flooding from the nearby Cumberland River. The 1.2 million-square-foot mall at the site of the old Opryland USA theme park has been closed since May 2010. A dispute over insurance coverage delayed restoration work at the venue adjacent to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. An estimated $200 million in repairs has been done. A few tenants have already reopened or, like Bass Pro Shops, never closed or shut down briefly.
Opry Mills’ resurrection is almost complete. Mall officials, contractors and store employees scurried to put on the final touches Wednesday in preparation for a grand reopening today — one year, 10 months and 27 days since the swollen Cumberland River damaged the shopping center, forced its closure and prompted a $200 million makeover and an ongoing insurance lawsuit. Inside, workers polished tile floors and walls, added touch-up paint and vacuumed construction dust. Mall officials monitored the progress via walkie-talkies as they hosted a sneak preview for the news media.
It’s a day many thought would never come. Opry Mills celebrates its grand re-opening Thursday. The mall, which employs nearly 3,000 people, has been mostly vacant since the May floods of 2010. Even the mall’s employees like Amy King didn’t know what to think when owner Simon Property Group halted repairs after the flood. The company still hasn’t resolved a lawsuit over $200 million of insurance money. “I think we were all scared, especially people who were counting on having a job here, we were concerned with having employment. Now with Dollywood coming in, we’re so excited.”
Tourists may have three hours to spend at a mall like Opry Mills , but nearby residents mostly want to get in and out. With that in mind, Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group redesigned Opry Mills in hopes of luring more local shoppers, said Gregg Goodman president of The Mills. Opry Mills will formally reopen Thursday, after being closed since the flood of May 2010. A before and after gallery of the redesigned mall is available to the right.
When McKesson Pharmaceutical Co. went looking for another redistribution center, it wanted 70 acres of land for what wound up being a $135 million investment, the largest capital investment made in the history of the health care software, automation and services company. There were three sites in Memphis McKesson considered in 2009. The only one of the three that had that much acreage was a tract of land near the recently opened Northridge distribution center Nike built in Frayser The impact of a second major distribution center in an area already blighted before the current recession would have been incalculable.
Frayser Elem. parents hear about new plansAbout 10 parents showed up Wednesday to meet the state officials who will be running Frayser Elementary School in the fall. The turnout appeared to be a letdown for organizers, based on the number of pizza boxes stacked in the back. Ninety minutes later, parents said their questions had been answered as they headed out the doors to make up their minds about where they will send their children to school. “I am interested because I want to see if those changes are going to be relevant,” said Isaac Green, who has three children at Frayser.
It would take $594,567 to fund the city’s share of a teachers’ group’s request for 2.5 percent pay hikes, a school official estimates. Funding that pay raise would require nearly a 7-cent increase in city property taxes, according to city revenue figures. Karen Gagliano, the school system’s director of business and support services, on Wednesday gave the estimate of the local cost for pay raises. The co-presidents of the Oak Ridge Education Association, Steve Reddick and Mike Haygood, gave their salary package proposal to Board of Education members Monday.
A meth-lab found in an apartment building in Elizabethton led to two arrests Tuesday night as well as the removal of a child from the home. According to reports from the Elizabethton Police Department, officers went to an apartment on South Sycamore Street in Elizabethton to serve an outstanding arrest warrant for violation of probation on Cheyenne Lunceford, 21. When officers arrived, they say they found Lunceford, along with Richard Jason Bryant, 31, of Jonesborough, Tenn. and a 17-month-old child.
Siler also had outstanding warrants, police say A Jackson man was arrested Monday on drug charges after authorities said they found a meth lab in a car he was in, according to a news release. Jackson-Madison County Metro Narcotics investigators encountered Ashton Skye Siler, whom they knew to have multiple outstanding warrants, on the parking lot of 154 Law Road in northeastern Madison County, the release said. The release said that when officers approached the car that Siler was seated in, they found he had a “one pot” meth lab in the floor of the car between his feet.
State Rep. Andy Holt and state Sen. Kerry Roberts, both Republicans, won’t leave well enough alone. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, they are convinced that Tennessee needs a law that will allow select students to voluntarily express their “religious viewpoints” in a public school setting. Their bills — called the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act,” — won approval in House and Senate committee votes earlier in the week. They are now headed for floor votes in both legislative chambers. The bills should be thwarted.
The “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” is headed for a vote in the Tennessee House and Senate. We question the need for this legislation and caution lawmakers to consider what doors they might unintentionally be opening. The act is overbearing and would force local school districts to establish a policy they don’t need. Also of concern, the proposed model policy provided in the legislation is arbitrary and could be considered discriminatory by some. House Bill 3616 and Senate Bill 3632 have passed the Education Committee of each chamber.
Fight against cancer advances because of Darwin, scientists who followed him Last year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This year, state legislators in Tennessee passed bills designed to undermine the teaching of evolution in public school biology classes. Those events seem unrelated. But these bills are bad for my health and the health of each of the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer every year. These bills legitimize the idea that the theory of evolution is just an opinion.
Sometime I think I’ve entered Bizarro World when I view public policy issues being argued in the Tennessee Legislature. I was an early proponent of value-added testing of teachers and spent time out on the University of Tennessee campus talking with Dr. William Sanders, the godfather of the Tennessee testing program. Gov. Ned McWherter was determined to enact education reform and his chief policy adviser, Billy Stair, immediately saw the testing program as significant reform and a McWherter legacy. The proponents at the time decided the scores would be kept secret at first.
A joint resolution passed this month by the State House condemning a 20-year-old United Nations document should be placed into a time capsule so future generations can understand why they inherited an unsustainable and deteriorating world. The legislators who sponsored HJR0587 embarrass not just Tennessee but also humanity. The bill calls U.N. Agenda 21 “destructive and insidious” and says it “views the American way of life of private property ownership, single-family homes, private car ownership, individual travel choices and privately owned farms all as destructive to the environment” and will accomplish its goals “by socialist/communist redistribution of wealth… National sovereignty is deemed a social injustice.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper calls Congress’s budgeting mess “no way to run a superpower,” and he’s right. Congress has missed deadlines for 14 straight years on spending bills and hasn’t passed a full budget measure in three years. While congressional budgets are non-binding and simply set targets for spending bills, this type of operation is a slap in the face of the American people, private businesses and local and state government, all of which must live by a budget.
Aside from providing good and efficient police, fire and other similar protections for the safety and security of our people, there obviously is no more challenging public responsibility than providing good schools for our children. We are reminded of that in Hamilton County as our county school system is proposing a budget of $383 million for the next fiscal year — an increase of about $15 million more than the current year. About $12 million of the increases are described by the system’s director of accounting and budgeting as “unavoidable.”
The Knox County Charter Review Committee has the thankless task of cleaning up a charter that was written in ignorance of the latitude given to home rule counties. The state constitutional convention of 1977 gave counties the freedom to form their governments as they see fit. Shelby and Knox County did so, but no one, it seems, grasped the concept that almost any reform was possible until the state Supreme Court upheld term limits in Knox County in the Jordan decision of 2007. Building on a Shelby County case, the Supreme Court upheld term limits for most Knox County officials.
A few weeks ago, stories appeared in the local media about Tyler Edwards, a Gallatin elementary school student, whose life was saved by some fast-thinking and fast-acting school personnel. The student suffers from a peanut and tree-nut allergy, controlled by a strict regimen yet potentially deadly if not treated quickly when a reaction occurs. As young Tyler explained to the Hendersonville Star News, “Most kids … they’re always surprised that I can’t even have the plain M&M candy without the peanuts because it was made in a facility where the peanuts are.”
The Supreme Court’s dissection of the Affordable Care Act over the past three days was far more enlightening about the activist partisan bent of the so-called conservatives on the court, than it was about the sense of reason, the common good and the broad justice that is presumed to lie at the heart of the court’s mission. Justice Antonin Scalia, regarded as the intellectual light of the conservatives’ five member majority, made that dishearteningly clear with his witless comparison of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance to a mandate — if the government so wished — for Americans to buy broccoli.
We all, of course, want all of our people to have whatever medical care they may need. We surely realize that it is a good idea for us all to have sufficient medical care insurance, either in connection with where we work or individually. But can you find anything — anything — in our Constitution of our United States that says — or even implies — that our federal government has the legal power to mandate or in any way legally to require us to buy medical care insurance? Of course, there is no such constitutional requirement.